Labour IT mandarins make comeback bid for global transformation

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The last Labour government's "Transformational Government" project has been rebirthed in California as a plan for world-wide reform of seismic proportions.

Four leading emissaries of the initiative teamed up in London this month to argue against the UK's open standards policy and have tried to persuade the Cabinet Office to adopt their policy instead.

The group, convened as the Transformation Government Framework Technical Committee of the OASIS standards organisation, was formed in collaboration with Microsoft by officials of a government that became synonymous with IT disasters. It has recruited the World Bank and other international institutions to persuade governments around the world to adopt its transformational policy.

The TGF Committee has told governments they should drop policies that address technology directly - policies like the UK's open standards policy. It has discussed instead a plan for a world-wide technical standards body and its members have expressed a preference for the controversial FRAND standards the UK has been trying to purge from its computing infrastructure.

Having been launched at a December 2010 World Bank meeting on the premise that the market had already settled all standards dilemmas of any importance, the OASIS TGF proposed in its first official publications this Spring a reform programme that incorporated privatization, civil service job cuts and a hegemonous computing architecture that all governments must follow.

OASIS TGF TC.pngClose-knit

Former deputy e-Envoy Chris Parker formulated the plan with the help of Microsoft worldwide policy director Steve Mutkoski. It was published by his company CS Transform, which had been paid by Microsoft to do work on the theme.

John Borras, a consultant for CS Transform and a senior member of OASIS, convened the OASIS TGF committee around the CS Transform plans. Borras had worked under Parker in Labour's Cabinet Office as director of technology. Other founding members of the committee included Peter Brown, managing director of a Brussels-based software consultancy called Pensive SA, where Borras also worked as chairman, and Andy Hopkirk, who as a director of the UK National Computing Centre in 2000 had helped Borras and Parker implement the Labour government's IT strategy.

Brown, Hopkirk, Mutkoski and Parker argued against the UK coalition government's policy at the first meeting of the Cabinet Office's open standards consultation on 4 April. This was the same team that had launched the TGF with Borras at the World Bank.

Ajit Joakar, another opponent of government policy at the Cabinet Office meeting, was notable for support he gave Mutkoski and Parker when they first elaborated early ideas for the TGF committee in 2009. Linda Humphries, the Cabinet Office policy official who convened the April meeting, was a junior official when Borras, Parker and Hopkirk held their senior posts there.

Denials

Borras told Computer Weekly the World Bank, European Commission and the European Regional Information Society Association were all "keen" to implement the committee's plans. The World Bank is currently formulating an ICT strategy for developing countries, while ERISA represents local governments across Europe.

He denied the plans had been formulated from narrow interests. "There's no chumminess," he said. The OASIS committee was "open and transparent".

"I've worked with many of these people over the years. Working for the UK government, I built a network of contacts around the world.

"We feel technology is not a barrier any more. So the focus has moved to business change. Governments are not organised in a way that is conducive to delivering online services. They need to restructure the way they do business. We are trying to help them on the best way of doing that," said Borras.

He denied his group was promoting a political agenda. He said TGF had not proposed privatisation and job cuts - described in his committee's Framework as "mixed economy service provision" and "restructuring of the public labour market". He said the plan was for "restructuring of operations to maximise the delivery of services...in the most efficient way". His committee had met with Cabinet Office officials who were considering its proposals.

Connections

Chris Parker told Computer Weekly Borras had known nothing about the Transformational Government plans being formulated at CS Transform until they were sent to him in 2010. He said Borras had merely been a consultant at CS Transform on a project basis. Parker said the original transformation plan had been formulated by Parker himself and Bill Edwards, a CS Transform director who also worked with Borras and Parker at the Labour e-Envoy Office as director of e-Communications, and also as managing director of Directgov. Edwards also joined their OASIS TGF committee.

Parker also played down Microsoft's involvement. He said CS Transform earned most of its income from governments. It had been paid by Microsoft but not specifically to produce the TGF proposals.

The TGF proposals were however formulated in collaboration Microsoft and CS Transform has co-branded a Microsoft brochure on the topic. Parker refused to discuss specific work CS Transform had done for Microsoft and whether the work had been supplied by Mutkoski, his colleague on the OASIS TGF.

Borras had in fact also worked for Parker at Gov3, the consulting firm the latter formed with Edwards on leaving the Labour Cabinet Office in 2004. Andrew Pinder, who as UK e-Envoy had been their ultimate boss in Labour's Cabinet Office, had launched Gov3 with them. Their work at the Cabinet Office had controversially produced a government system that forced people to use Microsoft technology.

Gov3 had similar proposals to those CS Transform adapted with the help of Microsoft to form the OASIS TGF committee. It was similar to their work at the Labour Cabinet Office. Borras said it was in fact an "evolution" of that work. The Gov3 work was also supported by the World Bank, where Borras, Edwards and Parker are official e-government advisers.

Borras said the OASIS TGF proposals did not require governments to adopt specific standards. But it was a topic the committee would address. It currently required government's to implement their computing infrastructure using the OASIS Service Oriented Architecture Reference Model.

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